IT’S BEEN A LONG COLD LONELY WINTER

How fatal taking for granted the loyalty and devotion of one’s audience can be was never better illustrated than in the swift falling from favour of the poor old Bay City Rollers. Almost omnipotent in 1975, the nice-but-dim young Scotsmen were the UK’s belated home-grown answer to The Osmonds. Possessing the clean-cut boy-next-door appeal guaranteed to send nascent female hormones into the same overdrive as Utah’s most famous family firm had done, the rise of the Rollers dramatically served to usurp the Mormon musical missionaries. Prompted by their astronomical British success, the Rollers then looked to replicate it on the other side of the Atlantic – despite the fact this had already proven to be a futile exercise for immediate pop predecessors like Marc Bolan and Slade. Yet the Rollers got off to the best possible start when ‘Saturday Night’ shot to the top of the Billboard Hot 100 at the beginning of 1976, an achievement that naturally booked them on the next flight to America.

But the timing of the Rollers’ Stateside expedition was especially unfortunate. In 1976, two emerging musical genres that would go on to dominate what remained of the 70s – Punk and Disco – were luring away sizeable chunks of the pop audience from the hormonal cauldron of the teenybop arena; at the same time, those unmoved by Donna Summer or The Sex Pistols were mesmerised by a certain self-contained Swedish hit-machine. Rollermania was also destined to be a temporary phenomenon – a necessary rites-of-passage ritual for teenage girls before boyfriends and babies, as well as being the last hysterical hurrah of a frenzied trend that defined the decade until it grew up and moved on. The band returned home from what turned out to be a short-lived stint in the American spotlight to find their audience diminished and the zeitgeist having relocated; they never scored another No.1.

However random or irrelevant this brief detour into the reassuringly safe refuge of pop culture history might appear to be, it is my roundabout way of making a point. Deciding to tentatively return to a medium I had no choice but to plunge into suspended animation five months ago might make it appear as though I reckon it’s ‘business-as-usual’ and we pick up where we left off in December. As much as it flatters my ego to imagine it, I’m aware that assuming all regular commentators and readers have spent every day of 2018 so far scanning their inbox first thing on a morning in the hope of seeing a notification informing them a new ‘Winegum Telegram’ post has appeared – and their days therefore being ruined as a consequence of this not coming to pass – is utterly absurd. Yes, I’m conscious kind comments have continued to periodically pepper the blog during the hiatus; but to envisage lives revolving around the proclamations of Chairman Petunia, and collapsing into complementary stasis in the absence of them, is a conceit even I would never countenance.

How do I explain why coming back to this has been so difficult? Oh, well – think of string and the length of it. Perhaps it’s been so difficult because ‘gifts’ that previously provided satisfaction and a sense of purpose (if an absence of income) lost their collective value for me. Experiencing a severe dent to self-confidence re my ‘creative capabilities’ was one reason for ruling out a return; recent reunions with old posts on here – read for the first time with real detachment – left me impressed albeit simultaneously disbelieving I’d written them. Yes, each element is connected and affected. One particularly devastating bombshell can have a big enough impact to bleed into every facet of one’s life, even areas that have no direct relation to it, triggering a chain reaction that can leave one pretty bloody winded. Until the event that knocked me for six, I could write a post for this, put a jolly little satirical video together for YouTube, and maybe even work on a novel – all in a day’s work. And now, everything has either slowed to a snail’s pace or ground to a complete halt, which is a crippling state of affairs for someone whose identity is defined by his creativity; this is actually the first prose I’ve written since December. Noting regular references to depressive bouts in past posts, I feel almost envious of the author’s naivety, realising I had no real idea how low I could go; but even someone with ‘previous’ isn’t prepared for the kind of emotional meltdown I’ve undergone, and Nietzche’s assertion that ‘if you stare long enough into the abyss, the abyss will stare back at you’ has been an unwelcome guest at my dinner table of late.

Don’t think I haven’t noticed news stories that I would no doubt have penned plenty posts about had I still been active; but being relieved of my duties has spared me extended exposure to items that would only have added to my unhealthy state of mind had I had to immerse myself in them via the compositional process. The necessity of such survival tactics means I’ve allowed the opening months of 2018 to pass me by in a way I never have with a year before; but I’ve been powerless to prevent my paralysing inertia. Having said that, I did manage to condense many of these headlines into one video a month or so ago, which felt like a small step in the right direction; it says what I felt needed to be said without having to devote a dozen posts to the subjects featured, so it was a tiny triumph of sorts.

Even with the invaluable support of close friends, however (many of whom have revealed touching depths of understanding and empathy), I remain frustratingly entrenched in a Groundhog Day distinctly lacking colour or joy and where the only thing I’ve been able to detect around the corner is a bloody great brick wall, forcing me to adopt the ‘one day at a time’ approach to life – one bereft of forward planning and predictions, though also, mercifully, devoid of Lena Martell’s greatest hit (Sweet Jesus).

During the darkest sections of this extremely dark tunnel, the only contemporary cultural artefact that seemed capable of holding my attention was BBC4’s French police series, ‘Spiral’ – and that was mainly because any wavering from the subtitles would bugger-up the plot, so I had no alternative but to concentrate. Otherwise, unable to focus for long on a book, I lost myself in a steady diet of DVDs that provided nostalgic comfort food for the head as well as solid no-nonsense drama that has stood up remarkably well 40 years on. Give ‘The Sandbaggers’ a try if you enjoy old-school Cold War espionage in the le Carré mode; one of you out there already has – that much I do know (according to the latest memo from C, anyway). Similarly, a superb album of eccentric curios and buried treasure unearthed by St Etienne’s Bob Stanley and Pete Wiggs titled ‘English Weather’ got me through the winter on a loop, whereas Joni Mitchell at her mid-70s peak is easing me through the spring. Only wish these healing hands could carry me back to where I was before I needed them; but they can’t.

Knowing not if this post is one-night stand or series reboot, I can’t guarantee when the next one will be; but architectural historian Jonathan Glancey’s reflection on the sad descent of architectural critic Ian Nairn into drunken disillusionment and an all-too premature end feels relevant. ‘If you do fight continually against the things that make you angry,’ he said, ‘you get exhausted…exhausted in your mind, exhausted in your heart, and exhausted in your soul.’ Modesty prevents me from placing my own humble kicks against the pricks in the same league as Nairn’s poetic tirades aimed at architects and town-planners from the 50s to the 70s – tirades that graced the pages of national newspapers and networked TV screens. I do recognise a kindred spirit when I see one, however. Symptoms of Nairn’s downfall seem uncomfortably familiar as well, which is why any return to regular writing on here has to be motivated by a genuine compulsion to do it (rather than a misguided sense of obligation), believing I can do it, and being convinced people actually want to read it.

So, that’s the best I can do right now. You heard it here first. Okay. Until we meet again…soon, I hope…

© The Editor

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THE GOOD-TIME GIRL NEXT-DOOR

Some exits appear preordained in terms of timing. That Christine Keeler should pass away just a month or so after Westminster was mired afresh in a so-called sex scandal that pretty much paled next to the one she will be forever associated with is pretty immaculate timing. Her death at the age of 75 also came just a week after declassified files revealed her brief beau John Profumo’s involvement with a Nazi spy in the 1930s. When the knee-touching exploits of Michael Fallon and the office porn of Damian Green hit the headlines, the Profumo Affair was never far away from being evoked again; but 1963 was a different world to 2017. Christine Keeler’s involvement with a prominent Cabinet Minister as well as an alleged Russian spy is often credited with not only contributing to the demise of a Tory Government, but for also shining a light on the double standards of our ‘betters’ that helped bring about the collapse of the curse known as deference.

Private orgies at one end and bits on the side at the other were equally permissible amongst the upper echelons of British society as long as discretion was practiced. Vices were not paraded as they had been during the Georgian era, but vices had never gone out of fashion; they’d merely gone behind closed doors. After all, it was the job of the ruling class to ‘set an example’ to the lower orders; if they fancied a bit of rough in a Lady Chatterley fashion, they went about it quietly because that was very much frowned upon. The social melting pot of clandestine gay drinking-dens was a perennial source of anxiety to the powers-that-be not so much because they were concerned about the ‘scourge’ of homosexuality, but because the mixing of the classes would negate deference and risk bringing about the downfall of all they held dear.

Working-class ‘tarts’ of either sex remained alluring forbidden fruit to the upper-classes, however, so it was no surprise that Christine Keeler and her fellow London night-club hostess Mandy Rice-Davies hooked-up with a man bearing the unforgettable job description of ‘Society Osteopath’, Stephen Ward. Ward opened the doors to that Society for two girls of humble means, and who could blame them for grabbing it with both hands at a time when their alternative options were both limited and humdrum? Ward’s impressive client list included Viscount Astor, bastion of the establishment, and rising star of the Conservative Party, John Profumo.

The affair between Profumo and Keeler was brief, as was the simultaneous liaison with Soviet naval attaché Eugene Ivanov, and chances are neither would have attracted any outside attention had not the police and press been drawn to an incident outside Ward’s plush Mews flat. Keeler’s jilted West Indian lover Johnny Edgecombe firing shots up at the window Keeler was hiding behind led to the exposure of the Profumo connection with Keeler and then Ivanov’s presence. In the wake of several spy scandals involving the likes of George Blake and John Vassall – not to mention the high-profile defection of Kim Philby – any Russian association with members of the aristocracy was bound to provoke jitters, and Labour naturally exploited the situation when MP George Wigg employed parliamentary privilege to accuse Profumo of having an affair with Keeler. The Secretary of State for War was forced to deny it in the Commons; it was this lie, and the resignation that followed the subsequent admission he’d lied, that condemned him in the eyes of his peers.

However, it was Stephen Ward who was really hung out to dry by the establishment, charged with living off immoral earnings – something Keeler always denied – and tried at the Old Bailey in the summer of 1963. Journalist, broadcaster and campaigner Ludovic Kennedy described the guilty sentence handed out to Ward as a blatant miscarriage of justice; but before Ward could be made an example of by the loathsome set who’d nominated him as a patsy, the abandoned osteopath had slipped into a coma courtesy of a deliberate overdose that resulted in his death three days later. Christine Keeler ended up inside for nine months on a charge of perjury relating to the overturned sentencing of Johnny Edgecombe’s love rival Lucky Gordon. John Profumo left politics and devoted the rest of his life to charitable works in the East End of London.

Between the public revelation of her affair with Profumo and the death of Ward, Christine Keeler was perhaps the most infamous young woman in the country. That her infamy should come at a moment when a changing of the social guard was already gathering speed via the breakthrough of The Beatles and the defiantly non-deferential satire boom in retrospect seems no coincidence. The iconic shot of her sat naked on a chair – perhaps the first of the Swinging decade’s such images – was memorably parodied on the cover of ‘Private Eye’ by cartoonist Gerald Scarfe, with Prime Minister Harold Macmillan in Keeler’s seat. Macmillan himself was gone by that autumn, citing ill-health, yet with his replacement being the Earl of Home, the Tories had clearly learnt nothing, assuming the default toff would save the day. He didn’t, and Harold Wilson led Labour back to power a year later after 13 years in opposition. The times they definitely were a-changing.

The exposure of the ruling class as decadent hypocrites trashed forever their self-appointed role as the nation’s moral guardians, whereas Christine Keeler’s overnight notoriety was a novel innovation for a girl born with a plastic spoon in her mouth. We’re used to working-class girls-made-good spread across our tabloid pages in the twenty-first century; that didn’t really happen before Keeler. Whether or not we can hold her responsible for the cast of ‘Geordie Shore’ isn’t perhaps a legacy she’d have wished to lay claim to, though she had to live the rest of her life in the shadow of something she did in her early 20s, both despising the fact yet ultimately dependent upon it for an income. But the timing of her arrival in 1963 was nevertheless as perfect as that of her exit in 2017.

© The Editor

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Mr-Yesterday-Johnny-Monroe/dp/154995718X/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1510941083&sr=1-1

THE LOST WORLD

I was talking to a friend the other night about my brief stint as a Big Gig-goer in the late 80s. I saw Bowie twice, as well as Dylan, the Stones and Prince once each within a three-year period and I did it all whilst signing-on, suggesting the ticket prices (not to mention the obligatory coach travel costs) weren’t that extortionate. The stubs from said gigs are probably gathering dust in my mum’s loft, so I’m unable to announce here and now how much I was charged for the privilege of being squeezed into Roker Park, Maine Road, Wembley Arena and the NEC; but a cursory glance at vintage ticket stubs from the same era on eBay suggests that even when the change in the cost of living is taken into account, the gap between wages (or dole) and ticket prices wasn’t that great a gulf.

It goes without saying that those were the days when touring was a handy sideline rather than the prime source of earning for musicians; like being able to turn up at your local football club on match-day without having to take out a loan beforehand, it was possible to see your musical heroes in the flesh for an affordable amount. The simple reason was that record sales financed their tax-exiles back then; even though there wasn’t much difference between the price of seeing them live and the price of their new album, the album would sell to more people than could attend a tour, thus negating the need to hike up ticket prices to a point where they’d be beyond the reach of fans short on ready cash. Not so now, in this post-Napster world.

Other the Ronnie Biggs model (which is itself redundant now the drugs market brings in a far higher income than an old-school blag), Rock ‘n’ Roll and football were the tried and tested working-class escape routes, as well as passionate pursuits for those who couldn’t sing a tune or kick a ball. The audience projected its own aspirations onto the performer, who had come from the same place, and believed it was possible to do likewise. The view from the terraces on a Saturday afternoon was similarly imbued with possibilities, especially for those youngsters hemmed into ‘the boy’s pen’.

There was considerable media coverage when England’s U17 team won their equivalent of the World Cup a couple of weeks back, though few members of that starting eleven will make it off the bench at Premier League clubs crammed with overseas signings. And unless a boy or girl from nowhere is prepared to suffer the indignity and humiliation of being a Cowell marionette, the only kids who can afford guitars, basses and drums today are the posh ones – which would explain why none of them have anything to say. Classic working-class pastimes have effectively priced out the working-class. But, hey, we’ve got Smartphones, X-Factor and microwave meals – what more do we need, eh?

Even the theatre was once an escape; some of our most iconic actors of the 60s and 70s came from humble backgrounds, but getting into drama school without the fear of being saddled with a lifelong debt and then honing their skills on the regional rep circuit is a lost world in 2017. The slashing of local council budgets that previously funded after-school drama classes and theatre workshops runs parallel with Government emphasis on the arts as a ‘luxury’ in state education (not much point reciting Shakespeare soliloquies when you’re cold-calling, I suppose). By contrast, the arts remain a fixture on the public school syllabus, which would explain why the majority of today’s under-40 household name thespians are Old Etonians. Their parents could afford to finance such ‘luxury’.

Considering the last time the economic climate was probably this grim was in the recession-struck early 1980s, it’s worth remembering what that period produced in terms of art reflecting life; and memorable music aside, it’s been interesting to recently reunite with a one-off TV series of the era that has unexpectedly surfaced on DVD. And, no, it’s not ‘Boys from The Blackstuff’.

‘Johnny Jarvis’ aired just the once on BBC1 at the back-end of 1983, and at the time of its broadcast was a must-see at my high-school. Appearing at the tail-end of the gritty social realism characteristic of ‘Play for Today’, this six-parter accurately documented the scrap-heap we Easter Leavers were poised to be tossed onto. The title character was played by Mark Farmer – a familiar juvenile lead at the time via his stint on ‘Grange Hill’, and who sadly passed away last year. Jarvis is the focus of his best friend, the bookish outsider Alan Lipton; Jarvis is a borderline ‘David Watts’ character to Lipton, both envied and idolised. But whilst Jarvis is dutifully subservient to the system once he leaves school, his subservience amounts to nothing when the firm he’s apprenticed to goes under before he fully qualifies as a skilled tradesman.

Lipton opts out and finds his voice with a guitar, starting a band he continues to write for after he forgoes the spotlight, leaving fame to his ex-bandmates whilst he settles for fortune. The steady progress of Lipton’s musical endeavours as the series spans 1977-1983 is a vivid demonstration of how such a thing was then possible from the starting point of a council flat; Jarvis’s struggles to make a living in the traditional heavy industries that were dying on their arses under Thatcherism are equally prescient for the era, and watching the programme after a 34-year gap really brought home to me how much has changed.

It not only reminded me of how those coming from nothing were able to articulate their experiences and could make themselves heard doing so. It also made me realise how those experiences wouldn’t be dramatised by mainstream television today. There is no working-class representation now unless we’re talking stereotypical chavvy thugs in gangs or victims of sexual abuse; and those playing such parts probably learnt their lines in end-of-term productions on the stages of Harrow or Roedean, anyway. Sixty years ago, Arthur Seaton said ‘Don’t let the bastards grind you down’; well, they have ground us down and they’ve got us where they want us – complicit in our own lethargy. Never mind the bollocks – here’s the Bake Off.

© The Editor

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Mr-Yesterday-Johnny-Monroe/dp/154995718X/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1510334323&sr=1-1&dpID=41ppifNq5pL&preST=_SY344_BO1,204,203,200_QL70_&dpSrc=srch

THAT WAS THE DAY, THAT WAS

I thought I might write about the fact that Spain has imposed direct rule upon Catalonia and has, in the process, stripped the region of its autonomous status; but as this is a subject I’ve covered a couple of times of late, I figured it would be wiser to wait till the next development before putting pen to paper (or finger to keyboard). I’ve a feeling there’s more to come where this particular story is concerned, and whatever I add to what I’ve already written will only needed to be added to again pretty soon after. I suppose I could also bemoan the fact yet another public figure has had to issue yet another public apology for something he said that offended somebody – i.e. Michael Gove’s ‘outrageous’ Weinstein joke; yes, Gove is a twat, but how many more times do we have to endure online outrage before we say enough is enough?

Okay, so sod the day today and dip into weekend nostalgia once more. My choice of Saturday night viewing as the rest of the nation plugged into talent show tripe was the 1973 movie, ‘That’ll Be The Day’, which itself dips into nostalgia for an earlier era. By the date of the film’s production, the pop culture revolution of the 60s had reached the point whereby it paused for breath for the first time and looked back over its shoulder at the remarkable journey it had made in little short of 15 years. In the US, the likes of Todd Rundgren condensed those 15 years into his oeuvre as pop realised it had a past, whilst stage musicals moved from the contemporary concerns of ‘Hair’ and escaped into the safer sentimental refuge of ‘Grease’; simultaneously, on this side of the pond Roxy Music and Wizzard revived the dormant 50s spirit by injecting it with some trashy 70s glamour as they were surrounded in the charts by a string of reissues.

‘That’ll Be The Day’ cast David Essex in the lead role of Jim MacLaine, a composite character of the Lennon/McCartney/Jagger/Richards generation, beginning life as a war-baby whose parents’ marriage is a casualty of conflict and then growing up to reject the novel new grammar school path to higher education courtesy of an imported youthquake that opens a door to alternate possibilities not dependent upon the results of exams. Essex was largely unknown to the general public when he won the role, though had made a mark in the archetypal turn-of-the 70s Rock Opera, ‘Godspell’; within a matter of months of the film’s premiere, he had become a bona-fide pop star, but he shared the spotlight in ‘That’ll Be The Day’ with genuine veterans of the period it recycles.

The likes of Keith Moon and Billy Fury feature in small cameos, though the real coup at the time was securing Ringo Starr as the street-wise Mike, who accompanies Jim on his journey through the rites-of-passage Butlin’s experience and then onto the fairground circuit. Starr had himself been a beneficiary of the holiday camp summer season during his pre-Beatles membership of rival Liverpool band Rory Storm and the Hurricanes, and the fact the Fab Four remained viable pop currency when the movie was shot undoubtedly aided its box-office success.

A pre-‘Citizen Smith’ Robert Lindsay also features as Jim MacLaine’s best mate at school, the swot who did as he was told when Jim ran away; his college life embraces the Trad Jazz and obligatory beard that serve to sever the friendship when the two old pals reunite a couple of years after Jim escapes the preordained path his mother laid out for him. Jim eventually returns home and belatedly attempts to fit in, marrying the sister of the Robert Lindsay character and impregnating her before the allure of Rock ‘n’ Roll proves too great. By the time we rejoin him in the following year’s sequel, ‘Stardust’, Jim MacLaine is the leader of a Beatles-esque band whose rise to fame and fortune has left his old life behind.

Critics have often labelled the two acts of Jim MacLaine’s fictional life ‘old wine newly bottled’, though the old wine was of a relatively recent vintage when the movie and its sequel were produced. I first saw the pair myself less than ten years after they premiered, when they constituted part of BBC2’s ‘Rock Week’ in the late summer of 1982, an early example of television ‘streaming’, with a series of loosely connected programmes on a theme spread over seven days. Although I didn’t know it at the time, Jim MacLaine’s mother projecting her own thwarted academic ambitions onto her offspring would be mirrored in my own life a couple of years later – something that provoked an instinctive rejection from me that ‘Stardust’ and its document of Jim MacLaine’s career as a pop idol provided an antidote to. For further reading, see the post from a couple of weeks back, ‘Musical Youth’.

In ‘Stardust’, Adam Faith steals most of the scenes he’s in as Jim’s devoted manager, albeit one who’s unable to save his golden egg-laying charge from the characteristic drug-induced exit of the period come the movie’s traumatic ending. Purely by coincidence, Slade’s solitary cinematic outing, ‘Flame’, appeared at a cinema near you at virtually the same time; considering Noddy and the lads had such a happy-go-lucky image, ‘Flame’ unexpectedly portrays the music biz in a similarly dark light as ‘Stardust’, chronicling the rise and fall of another fictional 60s band with equal cynicism. By 1974, the workings of the industry and the creative casualties it had left in its wake as Philistines in suits racked up the royalties had bred a disdain for its practices that helped provoke Punk a couple of years later, even though that generation didn’t fare any financially better than its predecessor.

Whilst it’s true that ‘That’ll Be The Day’ speaks the language of anyone who’s ever asserted their independence and challenged the consensus, whereas ‘Stardust’ documents the dream that used to fire the imaginations of the imaginative and was therefore only reality for a select few, the alternative available when Jim MacLaine walks out on domestic bliss is one that is no longer an option. Richard Ashcroft’s high-street stroll in the promo video for The Verve’s 1997 epic, ‘Bitter Sweet Symphony’, is now the fate of the outsider who never got away – despondent and defeated, though retaining a healthy contempt for the world about him, bereft as he is of social mobility, pining for the vanished riches of Rock ‘n’ Roll. From Jim MacLaine to Victor Meldrew in half-a-century.

© The Editor

https://www.epubli.de//shop/buch/Looking-for-Alison-Johnny-Monroe-9783745059861/63240

CRIME TRAVELLING

A week consisting of Brexit negotiations threatening to rival ‘Last of the Summer Wine’ in the long, drawn-out tedium stakes; a red sky overturning the old farmer’s saying by transforming it into an end-of-the-world-is-nigh omen; and our boys in blue plumbing unprecedented depths, taking to the streets in fancy dress as a contrived distraction from rising crime figures (‘social workers with Tasers’ as someone aptly described them on Twitter). Jesus, it’s no wonder I’ve sought escapism when it comes to offline downtime; and I’ve taken a route which is my own reliable visual equivalent of comfort food.

The last time this country felt this grim for many was at the end of the 1970s, and though the Winter of Discontent even impinged upon my pre-pubescent existence via a lorry drivers’ strike affecting the distribution of comics to the local newsagent’s, I can honestly say I’d rather be there than here. Having never passed my Tardis driving test, I have to make do with travelling back in time via the dependable DVD box-set; current flavour-of-the-month is the BBC’s downbeat gumshoe drama from 1979/80, ‘Shoestring’. The series accurately captures the weariness at the winding-down of what had been a testing decade, yet there’s something undeniably appealing about its atmosphere of stoic refusal to succumb to the kind of histrionic panic that runs through contemporary discourse – a resignation, yes, but not a surrender.

The title character of Eddie Shoestring, played with charismatic understatement by the then-unknown Trevor Eve, is undoubtedly a victim of his times, though triumphing over his demons without pleading for sympathy epitomises a certain unfussy British characteristic we appear to have subsequently lost. Eddie is recovering from a mental breakdown that occurred during his career ‘working in computers’; his rehabilitation at a clinic saw him devour pulp fiction, which in turn opened up a new career path as a private detective. Successfully utilising what would now probably be diagnosed as latent autism, Eddie’s unique talents are spotted by a local radio station; Radio West’s debonair manager Don Satchley (played by British acting stalwart Michael Medwin) senses a novel ratings winner and hires Eddie as the station’s ‘private ear’, inviting listeners to request Eddie’s services in the hope the cases will eventually make for an intriguing broadcast.

Eddie lodges with a sexy legal eagle called Erica, with whom he has a casual on-off bedtime relationship, though the viewer gets the impression Eddie really isn’t bothered too much by any of that stuff. Work is what really brings out the best in him. His slovenly appearance and cavalier disregard for authority complements his genuine compassion for the little people whose problems he endeavours to solve; and, like the unfairly-maligned ‘Dixon of Dock Green’ before it, it is the little people that ‘Shoestring’ focuses on. Contrasting with the macho bluster of ‘The Sweeney’ (which ended the year before ‘Shoestring’ debuted) and ‘The Professionals’ (which ITV scheduled in direct competition to the Beeb’s unconventional sleuth), the series has a human and humane regard for those who are often overlooked in life, let alone TV dramas. Character is central to the plot of each episode, and the lead is a fascinating, vulnerable individual ideal for a premise that wouldn’t work with a Regan, a Carter, a Bodie or a Doyle.

The series was based and mainly shot in the West Country, providing a refreshing alternative to the usual London locations then predominant in home-grown drama; there may be a trumpeted trend to shoot series outside of the capital on television today, though Manchester and Cardiff are shot through the same Dystopian lens as London, portraying them with indistinguishable urban clichés which makes one wonder why film crews bother exiting Watford Gap. ‘Shoestring’ also gives a distinctly British twist to the quirky private eye genre which was almost exclusively American at the time, with the likes of Rockford and Columbo still on their original runs. It gave early breaks to actors who would carve out glittering careers (I spotted Daniel Day-Lewis in one episode) as well as established actors nearing the end of their careers – and their lives – such as Harry H Corbett and Diana Dors.

‘Shoestring’ occasionally dips its toes into the pop culture of the era in which it was made. Toyah Willcox features heavily in an episode, playing a ‘punk singer’, ably assisted by an impressive supporting cast including the likes of Gary Holton, Peter Dean, Christopher Biggins, Lynda Bellingham and even Mick Jagger’s brother Chris. The only other series at the turn-of-the 80s that evokes the period with the same blend of charm and cynicism is ‘Minder’, which coincidentally aired for the first time that same autumn of 1979. However, unlike Dennis Waterman and George Cole’s vehicle, which was something of a slow-burner, ‘Shoestring’ was an overnight success, undeniably aided by the ITV strike of August-October 1979, which gave the series a massive ratings head-start when ITV was its sole competitor.

Yes, the cars – Eddie drives a battered Cortina estate – and the fashions are portals to another country, as is the soundtrack; with its radio station setting, the series is peppered with hits from 1979/80, a chart era especially rich in memorable pop. But there’s something about ‘Shoestring’ that makes it particularly attractive in 2017. It’s not just the look and the sound of the series; it’s also the fact that the characters are likeable and believable. A lot of that is down to the cast, but it’s also down to the solid writing from experienced telly hacks as well as skilled newcomers, both graduates from the BBC when its role was that of a creative university, training talent to do what it said on the tin with panache and personality. There’s a welcome absence of that strain of TV writing today that bludgeons and baffles viewers with storylines trying hard to be clever and complex when they’re actually self-indulgent exercises in abysmally emulating Nordic and American styles.

Trevor Eve’s theatrical and cinematic ambitions curtailed ‘Shoestring’ after just two seasons, and even though Eve retrospectively regrets he didn’t make at least one more series, the fact the programme ended when it did preserves it in a specific moment we shall never see again – a moment in which milkmen were still on the dawn streets to witness a murder, and a moment when private eyes couldn’t be contacted when out on an investigation until they passed a phone-box and rang home. So, tonight I’m gonna party like it’s 1979, in the company of Eddie Shoestring.

© The Editor

https://www.epubli.de//shop/buch/Looking-for-Alison-Johnny-Monroe-9783745059861/63240

DON’T HAVE NIGHTMARES

Catchphrases generally tend to be the province of comedians and sitcom characters, though they can also be attached to public figures, usually by impressionists looking for an angle. It’s questionable that Denis Healey ever said ‘Silly Billy’, and most now know that Humphrey Bogart’s famous line from ‘Casablanca’ wasn’t ‘Play it again, Sam’; but these things stick. One catchphrase that everyone of a certain age will always associate with the TV programme it sprang from is rarely misquoted because it was genuinely said at the end of each show – ‘Don’t have nightmares’.

If the announcement that the BBC is axing ‘Crimewatch’ after 33 years on air will provoke any protests, they will probably only be half-hearted and rooted in misguided nostalgia, as often happens whenever a long-running series that stretches back in the collective memory ends. But the audience figures speak volumes because few people are watching the series anymore; I don’t think I’ve seen it myself since the edition following the murder of Jill Dando in 1999. At its peak years during the 80s, it could attract upwards of 14 million viewers, though few shows can attract those kinds of numbers today anyway. However, as the premise of the programme has centred on audience interaction from its 1984 debut, an appeal to catch a criminal made before 14 million means the chances of the crook being caught are greater than if four and five million are appealed to; and those are the viewing figures the show can boast now.

During my recent meanderings on YouTube, I came across a Yorkshire Television continuity clip from the turn-of-the 80s; the ads were suddenly – and somewhat dramatically – interrupted by a caption on a black background that read ‘POLICE MESSAGE’. The announcer appealing for help in locating a missing teenager did so in a fittingly sober tone that was quite a contrast with the usual light one adopted when introducing ‘Paint Along with Nancy’. I guess, pre-‘Crimewatch’, such occasional announcements served the same purpose as the old ‘SOS’ broadcasts did on the radio airwaves, and stumbling upon the clip almost 40 years on was a reminder of how television once did what social media can do today.

The clip also demonstrated that this aspect of the medium could be expanded in a classic example of TV’s public service remit, one it still regarded as important even as late as the 1980s. Shaw Taylor’s ‘Police 5’ had pioneered a similar idea in the ITV London region since 1962, though the fact the series wasn’t networked and only ran for five minutes at a time limited its ability to do what ‘Crimewatch’ aimed to; that said, Taylor’s own catchphrase, ‘Keep ‘em peeled’, became more well-known than the series itself due to it being repeated on numerous 70s sitcoms produced in the capital. ‘Crimewatch’ (or ‘Crimewatch UK’ as it was originally known) would be broadcast nationwide and would run for an hour.

Outside of ordinary people making fools of themselves on ‘The Generation Game’, the general public’s involvement in TV broadcasting was rare in the 70s. BBC2 had its ‘Open Door’ strand, in which a brief platform was given to anyone who had something to say – though they usually appeared to be unhinged eccentrics representing some bonkers fringe political party – and there was always ‘That’s Life’. But instant interaction was more or less unheard of until the debut of ‘The Multi-Coloured Swap Shop’ in 1976. The backroom girls manning the phone-lines were in full view of the viewers, and those viewers (if they were lucky) could end up speaking live on the telephone to whichever star Noel Edmonds was interviewing. If this idea could be developed and transplanted to a serious factual programme, there could well be an appetite for it, though it took a further eight years before the BBC decided to try out the experiment.

Concerns that the police as well as victims of crime might be reluctant to share their stories with millions of viewers proved unfounded as ‘Crimewatch’ was an overnight success. Choosing trusted and dependable broadcasters Nick Ross and Sue Cook to anchor the show helped ease viewers into the unfamiliar format, though its formula soon caught on and became as recognisable as anything else on TV. The reconstructions of crimes using unknown actors were spared the melodramatic background music used on the likes of ‘America’s Most Wanted’, but the bad acting could undeniably make them unintentionally entertaining, despite the seriousness of the crime. When a routine by comedian Peter Kay years later drew upon the tedium of witness voiceovers accompanying these reconstructions, his audience groaned in unison, so familiar was the programme’s hallmark style by then.

There was a certain charm to the woodenness of police officers addressing the public on the show, emanating as they did from an age before media training was regarded as an important element of the job. But the absence of slickness on the part of Chief Supt. David Hatcher and his sidekick PC Helen Phelps reflected the fact that this was a programme in which professional presentation was secondary to getting results. That, at its height of popularity, the show drew in the kind of audiences that would today only gather round their sets to watch a talent show finale or an England World Cup match is another aspect of how the priorities of TV, both in terms of programme-makers and programme-watchers, have altered since 1984.

Unlike other factual crime shows on British TV today, which use the sensationalistic template of ‘America’s Most Wanted’ in chronicling a crime (and are usually presented by the loathsome Mark Williams Thomas), ‘Crimewatch’ wasn’t there to pander to the same vicarious impulses that keep the memoirs of cockney gangsters riding high in the bestsellers’ lists. It had a valid purpose. 1 in 3 ‘Crimewatch’ appeals have led to an arrest, whilst 1 in 5 have led to a conviction; of a third of cases solved via a ‘Crimewatch’ appeal, half have been as a direct result of viewers’ calls. In its first 25 years, the show had a part to play in the capture of 57 murderers as well as 53 sex offenders and 18 paedophiles.

Apparently, the series was most recently presented by Jeremy Vine, which is really the kiss of death for any programme; but the television medium as it exists in this century is a different beast to the one it was in the last century – as is the country itself. Nick Ross left ‘Crimewatch’ ten years ago; when did your nightmares begin?

© The Editor

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MUSICAL YOUTH

A paragraph from the previous post provoked this one, and if you haven’t read it, where have you been? Anyway, let’s go back 30 years. Actually, I’d rather not; if 2017 is pretty grim, I can’t say I rated 1987 much at the time either and it doesn’t acquire a nostalgic glow the further away I travel from it. The stuff I cared about then – general popular culture and pop music in particular – was, in my opinion, rubbish; there were a couple of contemporary exceptions, but I was a scholar of what is now referred to as ‘Classic Rock’. I also extended my appreciation of the recent past to then-unfashionable 70s pop such as Abba and The Bee Gees, acts who had yet to receive the kitsch makeover the next generation would give them. The arrogance of youth told me I could do better than what the present was offering me as a record-buyer.

My mate Paul played the guitar; I wrote the lyrics. Between us, we moulded them into melodies which I sang; Paul provided the riffs. He and I shared a wavelength neither of us shared with anyone else; Paul was the first friend I’d had who looked like he could’ve been in the Stones rather than Curiosity Killed The Cat, and we sparred off one another in our attempts to resemble rock stars. He was as much of an outsider in his part of town as I was in mine, and we’d both experienced run-ins with ‘the beer monsters’; city centre streets may have been low on knife crime and acid attacks in the 80s, but you still had to watch yourself. It was easier when there were two of you.

We’d spend virtually every weekday ensconced in Paul’s bedroom at his mum’s house, listening to a range of LPs from the extensive record collection he’d amassed during his brief stint in 9-to-5 Land. We studied and absorbed the masters; it was our university. Eventually, I’d produce my exercise book crammed with lyrics, he’d tune up his acoustic guitar, and we’d devote the next few hours to putting a song together; if it was any good, we’d record it on his ghetto blaster and improve it the following day before moving onto the next one. We were hungry to make our mark, and though we may have been dreaming the dreams many music-obsessed young men dream, we were prepared to put the work in.

After several months of assembling a songbook, we decided to locate other musicians, and there was no shortage of venues to visit where we could check them out. Unfortunately, it took time to find like-minds; commitment was hard to come across. Rehearsal space wasn’t, but as Paul and me were both signing-on, it could be a stretch to pay for it. A room above a pub with an unsavoury reputation as the hostelry of choice for football hooligans was the one we eventually settled on because it was the one we could afford. By then, we’d acquired a bass-player and drummer, though it had taken well over a year of searching and numerous disappointments before we got there.

Our first gig was on the bill of an all-day event featuring dozens of local bands, staged in one of the many pubs that packed the punters in by hosting live music. In a dense fog of fags, and fuelled by booze that was probably less than a quid a glass, we took to the stage, collectively crapping ourselves. We had the usual repertoire of crowd-pleasing standards, such as ‘Teenage Kicks’, but primarily showcased our own material. We were rather under-rehearsed, but went on in the late afternoon, by which time the well-sozzled audience greeted every act with enthusiasm. I can’t honestly remember how many numbers we played; I mainly remember wearing a second-hand psychedelic jacket, which a lady complimented me on – the first such compliment a lady had ever paid me. It wasn’t a bad day.

We recorded a demo tape – tape being the operative word, as the songs went straight from reel-to-reel acetate to cassette; the recording studio cost what must have been a small fortune to us then, and we had to record and mix four songs with the clock rapidly ticking towards the end of the time we could pay for. We didn’t sound bad, and it’s undoubtedly invigorating when you hear yourself in top-notch quality sound for the first time. The end result received reviews in regional fanzines and was optimistically dispatched along the tried-and-tested route that led to John Peel and the music industry. We played a few more gigs: one as support to another local band in another pub, one on our own (in another pub), and one on the bill of another all-day event – this time in a pub car-park. That gig turned out to be our last.

We had the impossible task of following a folk duo singing a song called ‘F**k Off, Yuppie Scum’ to the tune of ‘Knees-Up, Mother Brown’; but we were such a shambles on the final performance that I actually apologised to the audience who were too pissed in the summer sun to even notice. We hadn’t rehearsed in weeks. The drummer was still at school and this was just a hobby to him; the bass-player enjoyed jamming but had no real interest in being a professional; and Paul was smoking a lot of dope, perhaps to cope with the fact we were going nowhere after all the work he and I had put into it. Our friendship survived, but our musical partnership didn’t. We never shared the same vision thereafter; I got into the nascent Dance scene, whereas he preferred chilling out to ‘Astral Weeks’. We’d had high hopes, but we’d crashed and we’d burned.

Paul and I had probably squandered twelve months searching for other musicians because we were so determined to do it the traditional way we revered. Today, we wouldn’t need them; we’d have the technology to create a ‘virtual’ band and we could record on bedroom PCs without having to bankrupt ourselves for studio time, uploading our endeavours online to a worldwide audience. We wouldn’t have to bombard record companies or the music press because neither exists anymore; but we’d struggle to play live because the gig circuit has gone along with the pubs that were vital to it. We also wouldn’t have the dole to subsidise our musical education and we wouldn’t have the money to invest in instruments.

They weren’t great days. They were frustrating and disappointing. We gave our all to something that eluded us, and whilst it genuinely doesn’t bother me now that we didn’t make it, it always seems a shame that all the dynamic verve and energy we exuded was drained from us in such in a depressingly crushing manner – though we weren’t the first and we weren’t the last either. Les McQueen from ‘The League of Gentlemen’ (guitarist with Crème Brulée, a 70s band that never made it) would look back by saying ‘It’s a shit business; I’m glad I’m out of it’; but I don’t regret doing it. Everyone should give it a go and then gracefully exit the stage when it all goes tits up. It’s an experience that prepares you for the rest of your life.

© The Editor

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STATION TO STATION (4)

The final moments of the BBC Home Service took place during the final moments of Friday 29 September 1967; David Dunhill, the announcer, made reference to the soon-to-be Radio 1 DJ (and soon-to-be disgraced) Chris Denning having just appeared on BBC2’s ‘Late Night Line-Up’ wearing a T-shirt bearing the words ‘Death to the Home Service’, yet Dunhill assured listeners that the process of rechristening the following day would be akin to being ‘like a bride on the eve of her wedding; we go on being the same person, we hope; but we’ll never again have the same name’. It was a fittingly cosy analogy and one that seemed entirely in keeping with the image the Home Service had in the public imagination – one that typified everything antiquated and irrelevant about BBC radio to the generation tuning in to the pirates.

It wasn’t merely the addition of Radio 1 to the mix and the rebranding of the established three stations that spelt the death-knell for the Home Service; the imminent onset of BBC local radio would also rob it of one of its traditional functions. With the outbreak of the Second World War, the BBC had merged its National Programme and Regional Programme radio stations and the result of the marriage was the Home Service, based in London but peppered throughout the day with regional opt-outs from either Birmingham, Manchester, Bristol, Cardiff, Glasgow or Belfast – depending where you were listening. This hallmark of the station survived the birth of Radio 4 until the countrywide spread of local radio made it redundant; the last such opt-out on Radio 4 was in Devon and Cornwall as late as 1982.

After the war, the reorganisation of the BBC’s radio network that saw the arrival of the Light Programme removed many entertainment shows from the Home Service, though the station continued to host the likes of ‘ITMA’ as well as ‘The Goons’. In fact, for all its reputation as a carrier of serious news programming, the Home never entirely lost its entertainment elements, with adventure serial ‘Dick Barton’ especially appealing to young listeners who had their own show in ‘Children’s Hour’; sitcoms such as the long-running ‘All Gas and Gaiters’ and ‘The Men from The Ministry’ even lasted into the station’s incarnation as Radio 4. Factual mainstays that could also be classed as entertainment like ‘Gardeners’ Question Time’ and ‘Desert Island Discs’ survived the transition too and are still with us, as are news and current affairs institutions such as ‘Today in Parliament’, ‘The World at One’, ‘From Our Own Correspondent’ and, of course, ‘Today’.

As we have already seen with Radio 2 and Radio 3, many of the changes that occurred when the BBC stations were renamed were essentially superficial. For one thing, daytime Radio 4 was lumbered with its most unwanted inheritance from the Home Service during its early years, BBC schools broadcasting. Glancing through the musty pages of a Radio Times issue from November 1969, just two years into Radio 4, the station’s morning and afternoon schedule has schools programming from 9.20am till noon, then following ‘Listen with Mother’ at 2.00 there’s a further hour of it – an arrangement that’s all-but inconceivable to a modern-day R4 listener. This state of affairs frustrated more than one Radio 4 controller, though the schools service ironically provided my main contact with the station in the 70s.

By the beginning of the 1973/74 term, schools (as well as adult education programmes) had switched to Radio 4’s VHF wavelength; at a time when most in long pants were still listening on Medium Wave, it freed-up the schedules at last and facilitated the transfer of ‘Woman’s Hour’ from Radio 2 to what seemed to be its natural home. The next big change came in November 1978, when all four national stations shifted around the dial; Radio 4 swapped places with Radio 2, moving from Medium to Long Wave. The change also marked the beginning of 4 as a truly national station with the end of all-but a tiny few regional variations and the debut of the late lamented ‘UK Theme’ to open proceedings every morning; meanwhile, the Shipping Forecast sailed into a more conducive harbour at the same time.

It had taken a decade for Radio 4 to emerge from the long shadow cast by its predecessor, but it appeared to have finally managed it; by the 80s, more listeners were beginning to tune in to FM, which accelerated the relocation of schools broadcasting to the new Radio 5 in 1990. Perhaps the last lingering legacy of the Home Service remit had been dispensed with at last. The FM and LW versions of Radio 4 only temporarily go their separate ways today with ‘Test Match Special’ and ‘Daily Service’.

For my generation, and the generations after, names like the Home Service, the Light Programme and the Third Programme have a quaint, monochrome magic to them, belonging as they do to a lost, post-war 50s world that disappeared before our time. Radios 1, 2, 3 and 4, on the other hand, have always sounded contemporary. All four stations predate me by just a couple of months, so it’s no wonder. Of the four, I cannot deny Radio 4 is my preference and has been for around a decade, though I acknowledge it can be far from perfect.

There’s a tendency to over-egg the ‘right-on’ pudding on occasions; equally, whenever those hideous words ‘The Kardashians’ threaten to gatecrash the environs of ‘Woman’s Hour’ or ‘Front Row’, I switch to Radio 3. Radio 4 produces many superb programmes on pop culture (Saturday evening’s ‘Archive on 4’, for example), but there are already enough – more than enough – media mouthpieces for the afterbirths of Reality TV without R4 following suit. It’s supposed to provide an alternative with a brain rather than half of one.

After Radio 2, Radio 4 is the most listened-to station in the country, which is impressive considering what a radical counterpoint it can be to the overabundance of what the Americans refer to as Top 40 stations. The thought that the erudite interlude of ‘In Our Time’ can attract more listeners than some waffling wanker on Crass FM – the sort of white noise that serves as the in-car soundtrack of taxi-drivers – gives one hope that all is not lost. Fifty years old today, Radios 1, 2, 3 and 4 appear to have provided a cradle-to (not quite) grave listening experience for my entire lifetime; and that lifetime would have very been different without them. Many happy returns.

© The Editor

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STATION TO STATION (3)

Those of you who take note of the time of day these posts are dispatched will by now have gathered I’m prone to burning the midnight oil; living in a household where neighbours are a thin wall away, however, requires a degree of tact in terms of background sounds. The usual routine has always been to leave the World Service on come the Radio 4 closedown at 1.00am, though the volume is so low that what the voices are saying is generally inaudible. Of late, I’ve been switching over to Radio 3 to soundtrack my jottings in the wee small hours instead. As an alternative, it’s refreshingly soothing, comprising piano pieces in the Erik Satie mould, string quartets or choral music. They’re loud enough to absorb, but quiet enough not to disrupt anyone else’s slumber; I only wish my recently departed ‘Club DJ’ neighbour had considered a similar course of post-midnight audio action.

As a child, Radio 3 was the national radio station I knew the least about; Radio 4 was almost as alien to my ears, though I do remember my dad regularly listening to ‘Brain of Britain’, from which he no doubt sourced questions and answers for the pub quizzes he organised. In old-school terms, Radio 1 was for the terminal working-classes; Radio 2 was for the working-classes whose social mobility scooters had steered them away from the backyard privy; Radio 4 was for the middle-classes; and Radio 3 was for…well, who? The aristocracy? Pipe-smoking dons in tweed jackets? It had an enigmatic mystery to me because I never heard it, though no doubt its previous incarnation as the Third Programme would have been just as mysterious to ears weaned on Tony Blackburn.

It’s a measure of how much of a special case the Third Programme was that when BBC Radio underwent its great rebranding shake-up on 30 September 1967 and added Radio 1 to the long-standing trio of stations it was really only the daytime Music Programme, occupying the Third’s frequency since 1965, that became Radio 3. In the evening, it was business as usual with the Third continuing to provide cultural riches as well as Network Three’s educational ‘Study Session’; the station also retained its Sports Service strand on an afternoon (which included ‘Test Match Special’). As far as Radio 3 after dark was concerned, however, the impression given was that the station remained a highbrow night-school behind the various doors of which were numerous means of self-improvement; it was still the worthiest of broadcasting endeavours.

There had been more opposition to tinkering with the Third than accompanied the facelift of the BBC’s other two radio stations in 1967; it was viewed by many as an artistic oasis that deserved preservation. Even the ‘hit’ classical music composers like old Ludwig Van and Mozart were more familiar on the Home Service than on the Third, which revelled in the esoteric and uncommercial; there were also fears the station would lose its high proportion of spoken word programming when rebranded as Radio 3. Concerns that Radio 3 would effectively become Classic FM a quarter-of-a-century early were perhaps responsible for the compromise that kept the Third intact for another two-and-a-half years. However, the impact of 1969’s ‘Broadcasting in the Seventies’ report finally saw the Third vanish from the schedules in April 1970 and a full-time Radio 3 at last.

The station did gain ‘Choral Evensong’ from Radio 4 in 1970, with Radio 3 being a more fitting home for a series that has been on air since 1926; in return, political coverage became the exclusive province of Radio 4; any spoken word broadcasts on 3 would henceforth focus solely on the Arts, including plays and poetry. Many had worried the latter would be lost, as the Third Programme had been a major platform for contemporary poetry – virtually the only one in the field of radio. Periodical panic over Radio 3’s future wasn’t helped by the fact that the BBC’s monopoly of the airwaves was coming to an end; but there were few signs the ILR network (which spread across the country from 1973 onwards) intended to compete with Radio 3; as a consequence, its unique status seemed secure.

The station was an early beneficiary of VHF stereo broadcasting, something its playlist could have been designed for; its extensive coverage of the Proms and other major classical music events also often went hand-in-hand with simultaneous broadcasts on BBC2, which at the time was the nearest BBC TV had to an in-vision Radio 3. To the casual radio listener, the Third Programme may have had the reputation of being unfathomably intellectual, but Radio 3 retained the ‘elitist’ tag in the popular imagination simply by virtue of specialising in genres of music that wouldn’t threaten to gatecrash ‘Top of the Pops’. It’s worth noting, though, that Prog Rock would occasionally surface on the Radio 3 schedules in the 70s, paving the way for widening the musical scope that eventually encompassed ‘World Music’. Jazz has also been a key component from the beginning, as it had been in the latter days of the Third.

The arguments for and against the continued existence of a radio station with a relatively small (albeit passionate) listening audience are the same as those that surrounded Radio 3’s predecessor. One former managing director of BBC Radio had described the station as ‘a private playground for elitists to indulge in cerebral masturbation’ during its early years, while those to whom Radio 3 remains the same artistic oasis as the Third was before it are quick to protest whenever a new controller of the station implements ‘controversial’ changes, such as the arrival of Paul Gambaccini as a presenter in 1995; his presence was regarded by some as a populist move to prevent migration to Classic FM.

As we all – well, most of us – contribute towards the funding of the BBC, I think it only right some of that licence fee is diverted into niche broadcasting that doesn’t have the audience of a ‘Strictly’ or a ‘Bake-Off’. If we all pay in, we should all have our own tastes catered for, even if the tastes of the many naturally count for more in respect of how the money is dished out than the tastes of the few. The Third Programme or Radio 3 was never destined to be a ratings winner, but so what? Some things in broadcasting (and life) count for more.

© The Editor

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STATION TO STATION (2)

Being a notoriously dour Scotsman, Lord Reith’s famous proclamation that the BBC’s role was to inform, educate and entertain meant that the last of that trio wouldn’t have got much of a look in had Reith’s tenure as DG lasted way beyond 1938. His austere Presbyterian idea of entertainment would have driven a war-weary listening audience away from the BBC in their droves during the 1950s; they’d already turned to Radio Luxembourg for a lighter evening in front of the wireless before the war, and chances are they’d have continued to do so had not Reith’s successors at the helm reorganised the Beeb’s network when hostilities ceased in 1945.

Taking over from the General Forces Programme, the Light Programme debuted on the airwaves just two months after VE Day and quickly established itself as the most popular of the BBC stations for the next couple of decades. Whenever a documentary requires a piece of music to accompany footage of the 50s and wants to evoke a certain Home Counties ‘cosiness’, chances are the piece of music in question is the theme tune from a Light Programme mainstay such as ‘Housewives’ Choice’, ‘Workers’ Playtime’ or ‘Listen with Mother’. It’s also worth noting radio institutions like ‘The Archers’, ‘Woman’s Hour’ and ‘Pick of the Pops’ formed part of the Light Programme’s line-up along with a rash of memorable comedies such as ‘Hancock’s Half Hour’ and ‘Round the Horne’. And then there was the music – fittingly light with soupy strings and melodies so unobtrusively polite they almost asked for permission to rent the airwaves. By the mid-60s, however, the music was the problem.

With the Beeb belatedly attempting to swing along with the rest of the 60s, the rebirth of radio on 30 September 1967 saw the teen pop offerings of the Light Programme shift over to the new Radio 1; what of Radio 2, though? How would it differ from the station it succeeded? Not that much, really, which I suppose was part of the strategy to hold onto the Light listeners. Amongst the offerings on Radio 2’s first day (a Saturday) were Pete Murray, Kenneth Horne, Max Jaffa, the BBC Midland Light Orchestra, Sidney Davey and his Orchestra – Light Programme veterans all. It seemed the only real change was the name.

Come Monday morning, though ‘Housewives’ Choice’, ‘Music Box’ and ‘Music While You Work’ had all vanished and the station shared the shows of Jimmy Young, Simon Dee and Pete Brady with Radio 1, ‘Mrs Dale’s Diary’ (now ‘The Dales’) clung on, as did ‘Woman’s Hour’ – albeit considerably longer than ‘The Dales’. Musically, the presence of the Central Band of the Royal Air Force, Frank Chacksfield, and the wonderfully-named Reginald Leopold and the Palm Court Orchestra suggested familiar fare. Dotted through the schedule of the first Radio 2 week were other stalwarts of the Light such as ‘Family Favourites’, ‘Sing Something Simple’, ‘Top of the Form’, ‘The Navy Lark’, ‘Any Questions?’, ‘Friday Night is Music Night’, and plenty of sport, which remained a fixture of Radio 2 until the launch of Five Live in the early 90s.

There was a good deal of channel crossing between Radio 2 and Radio 4 in terms of genres and repeats in the early days, as there had been between the Light Programme and the Home Service; there was a distinct lack of identity where both stations were concerned, something that led to ‘Broadcasting in the Seventies’, the BBC’s far-reaching 1969 review of its radio output. As a result of the changes recommended in the report, the four networks began to morph into recognisably individual entities from the early 70s onwards. When Radio 1 transferred Jimmy Young and Terry Wogan to Radio 2 around the same time, the classic morning schedule had finally taken shape.

Although a few quizzes and comedies lingered on 2, along with a solitary soap (‘Waggoners’ Walk’), my own childhood memory of the station is of its playlist, largely derived from staying at my grandparents’ house in the 70s. For me, it presented a curious alternative to the pop diet of Radio 1 so familiar at home and served as an introduction to Easy Listening, Jazz, Big Bands and the song stylists of the pre-Rock n Roll era, none more so than Sinatra. By the late 70s, a combination of Simon Bates and Punk (awkward bedfellows, to say the least) had seen my dad switch his listening allegiance from 1 to 2, something the soccer coverage on the latter helped.

Aside from Wogan and Young, the voice I associate most with childhood exposure to Radio 2 is that of the superb football commentator, the late great Peter Jones; at a time when football coverage on TV was at a minimum unimaginable to today’s Sky subscribers, radio provided an essential service, and the theme tunes to ‘Sport on 2’ and ‘Sports Report’ respectively still evoke the old spirit of Saturdays for me as much as the sight of Tom Baker’s hat-&-scarf ensemble. When VHF – as FM radio was always called then – first appeared in our household, the wavelength was shared between 1 and 2, so any listen to a Radio 1 documentary in my teens was generally followed by a Radio 2 Jazz or Folk show.

The old joke about Radio 2, that it was a retirement home for Radio 1 DJs, is as relevant now as it ever was. Chris Evans, Jo Whiley, Zoe Ball, Sara Cox, Trevor Nelson and Simon Mayo were all still on Radio 1 twenty years ago, whereas they now comfortably slot in alongside ex-Radio 1 stars of a far older vintage such as Bob Harris, Johnnie Walker, Tony Blackburn, Paul Gambaccini and Steve Wright. However, the daytime playlist is usually geared towards listeners suddenly feeling nostalgic about their 20s for the first time, something that tends to creep in when people hit their 40s; therefore, the station’s presenters and musical selection reflect this for each generation. One thing Radio 2 has continued to do far more successfully than Radio 1 is to gently lower the average age of its audience every couple of decades.

In recent years, the blend of old and older broadcasters has helped make Radio 2 the nation’s most listened-to station and it appears to have finally shed its pipe & slippers image in the process. There does seem to be a worrying reliance on TV personalities presenting programmes, with Graham Norton, Paul O’Grady, Dermot O’Leary, Claudia Winkleman, Clare Balding, Craig Charles, Vanessa Feltz, Liza Tarbuck and the Partridge-esque Jeremy Vine all making the journey from television to radio; but former Radio 2 presenters who now reside in that great Broadcasting House in the sky, such as Terry Wogan and David Jacobs, also had a foot in both camps. And Radio 2 can still boast the archetypal broadcaster with a great face for radio, the indestructible Ken Bruce.

© The Editor

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